Ishi Gearing Up

On the Deer Creek Trail off Highway 32

Before we had graphite fly-rods and fluorocarbon leaders, the locals fished Deer Creek with a harpoon made of bone and wood.


How Those Before Us Fished Deer Creek

Ishi fished much as did other Stone Age peoples. Unlike shooting with the bow and arrow, which in the modern world has been declassed to the status of a game, men fish today with tackle and technique unchanged in their essentials since Stone Age times. The weir, seine, fish hook, line, rod, and harpoon are of immemorial antiquity. Ishi's mode of fishing followed the pattern of river and creek fishing whenever salmon run. ... He took trout and small fish in a hair snare, or with a hook, and he may have used a dip net. For salmon, he used the conventional salmon harpoon, a thrusting not a throwing weapon, double-pronged, the prongs make of bone or horn and carrying detachable "horned" toggles, with a length of attached line for playing the fish.

Ishi, like all expert wielders of the harpoon, sometimes used it as though it were a spear. His quiver, for example, which is in the museum, is made from the whole skin of an otter; the head has four holes, indicating where the prong points entered, went through, and emerged. Ishi preferred to harpoon from a rock in midstream; he saw clearly down into the water there, and was poised for a surer thrust than was possible from the creek bank.

A fisherman today, fishing along Mill or Deer Creek will have lines of nylon, toggles of steel, and complex flies; with he could without serious disadvantagement, exchange his own for Ishi's fishing kit, and come in with a good day's catch (carried in one of Ishi's baskets), as Ishi could have used modern tackle with a minimum of instruction. Perhaps creek and river continue to draw young and old to their quiet pools to fish because it is restful and healing to reenact an age old craft. No other occupation or activity today brings modern man so close to his Stone Age ancestors.

Ishi in Two Worlds by Theodora Kroeber